How to Teach Magic: The Gathering to New Players
Do you remember your first game of Magic: The Gathering? How you felt while learning how to play? Did a friend teach you or was it someone at your Local Games Shop? Are you considering teaching a friend or a sibling Magic? What are the best ways to introduce new players to the game? In this article I will be exploring some ideas and give out some advice on how to teach MTG to new players.
Introducing the Game
My introduction to Magic: The Gathering was from one of the Core Game starter packs Wizards used to sell way back in 2003-2004. It was given to me by a friend for my thirteenth birthday. He was also new to the game and since we shared most hobbies, he thought we could learn it together, and boy was he right. I liked the aesthetics of the game and even though I had yet to know the meaning behind the white and black border differences, I immediately took a liking to the 8th Edition Shivian Dragon and Elvish Champion. I thought those were two of the most powerful cards in Magic. I was so wrong. Together with my friend, we learned how to play the game and started attending FNMs. There we learned about Draft, Standard, and other MTG formats while also discovering new cards and new sets. Eventually, we got hooked. Fifteen years later and we are still buying cards and playing this wonderful game.
If you are like me, excited about every aspect of MTG, then you might think that teaching others about Magic is easy. However, things are not so straightforward. New players have no concept of the game, or they just have some basic information, so it is extremely important not to overload them with more information, and to let them experience the game at their own pace. You can try explaining the concepts of planeswalkers and planes, how the story is reflected in the cards, or you can compare MTG to roleplaying as a wizard, battling other wizards by summoning creatures and casting spells. The idea is to first get them interested and willing to learn the game. Some players may be more attracted to the lore elements, while other might just want to summon dragons and angels to smash face. As a rule, always introduce new players to the ideas behind MTG, and do not expect them to learn the game simply by teaching them how your Commander or Standard deck works.
Keep It Simple
MTG has been running for 25 years, so the game can be quite complex and overwhelming to new players. If you want your friend to learn Magic and to have fun while doing so, teach them the gameplay using simple decks. You do not have to go into too much detail in the beginning. They do not need to know every keyword ability, how Storm works, or how to Draft for now.
The best way to introduce someone to Magic is by bringing them to an MTG open-day event at a Local Games Shop. During these events, new players are given Welcome Decks and shown, together with other new players, how to play Magic. Welcome Decks provided by Wizards of the Coast (the publisher of MTG) are available in any Local Games Shop and are free of charge most of the time. Each Welcome Deck has two monocolored 30-card decks. These decks are creature-heavy, and their aim is to explain basic MTG gameplay, how a turn progresses, how to attack/block, etc. These decks also offer new players a taste of the color pie philosophy. Red and green decks focus on aggro plays while blue, black, and white have a more control feel. Cards from Welcome Decks allow new players to experience a watered-down version of MTG while getting used to how certain strategies work together. When they feel confident enough in their understanding of the game, the two 30-card decks can be combined to create a simple 60-card deck with two colors.
An important and mostly ignored aspect of learning MTG is the need for new players to practice. New players need to experience different scenarios in order to learn. This, however, needs to be done at the pace of the learner not the teacher. If you introduce a new player using the Welcome Decks, do not expect them to start playing Standard in a couple of weeks. They are still in the process of learning what the game has to offer and how they can find their place in it. Practice also brings with it another important point:
Let Them Win! …Occasionally
For new players to have fun, they need to win a few games. As an experienced player, the competitive drive to always win might be very hard to turn off, and some would argue that by beating new players in the game, you are teaching them to get better. The idea of tough love when teaching MTG does not work. It is more probable that new players will get frustrated and give up the game entirely if they constantly lose. They might feel the game is too complicated and they would rather spend their leisure time having fun instead of overthinking strategies to win. It is up to you as a teacher to guide new players and to occasionally let them win on purpose. This will give them the motivation to play again and improve their gameplay.
As a guide, you also have to explain card interactions they might be missing. For example, if the new player is attacking you with all their creatures while you have more/better blockers, explain the board state to them and why you have the advantage. If they attack with everything now without leaving some creatures for blocking, on the next turn they will lose because you have lethal combat damage. Showing them these situations will make them think again and eventually get better at recognizing advantageous strategies themselves. Occasionally, I still attack them even though I know my creatures will not survive. This will teach them how combat and blocking works. Remind them that they can block one creature with multiple ones, or show them different scenarios based on what they decide to do. Example, they can block with one creature and everyone dies – or – they can block with two creatures and my creature will die while one of theirs survives – or – they can take the damage, since they have a lot of life and can afford it – or – they can use any instants before any damage is dealt to make their creatures tougher. Give them options, and do not expect them to figure it all out on their own. Once they feel confident enough to act without your assistance, you will know that they are grasping the game well, and you can start playing a bit more competitively to give them a challenge.
Building a Collection
So what's next? After playing a couple of matches, new players will need to start exploring other cards and sets of MTG. A good way to start is by purchasing the Planeswalker Decks of the current set. These decks are by no means competitive; however, the decks provide a light into the current set and give new players a chance to play with planeswalker cards. Planeswalker Decks add a little bit more complexity and offer new players a chance to learn how to upgrade and improve decks. Planeswalker Decks come with two booster packs which players can use to tweak their deck.
Additionally, new players may want to buy a deckbuilder tool kit or purchase some booster packs just to become familiar with new cards. After playing some games with the new cards (against decks of a similar level, not full Standard yet), new players may want to learn about Draft or other MTG formats. My recommendation is to go to the Local Games Shop and to talk to other MTG players. There are a lot of individuals who will gladly help new players by either giving them advice or by supplying them with some free cards. This can translate into finding new friends and building up collections.
As a rule, if you want to teach MTG be patient and be ready to spend a lot of time (as much as necessary) with your friend/s to make sure they understand what they are doing. Do not criticize bad decisions. Instead, constructively show them or make them realize their mistakes. Remember that when you started playing MTG, you also made similar mistakes. Always put yourself in the new player’s shoes in order to try and reach their level of understanding of the game. Learning how to play Magic is a long process. I am not writing about learning the rules, but learning about the game, the lore, the community. If you are looking to teach MTG keep in mind that different players have different priorities and different learning styles. Always be patient and try to make the experience enjoyable for both of you.
How did you learn MTG for the first time? Share your stories and ideas with us.
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